I didn’t watch any football last night, but I’m glad Man City won. I know we have our own European trip this season, but I think I want them to go quite far in this season’s Champions League.
I don’t know if that will be a distraction to them, or if they’ll suffer injuries or fatigue because of it, but that can only happen if they’re in it. I think there might also be the very slight possibility – and I mean very slight – that having won the Premier League with such frequency, that Europe becomes a priority for them. Even subconsciously.
Consciously, I’m sure they will want to win both, but Pep is verging on full doolally mode when it comes to the Champions League, and maybe that will have an influence on some of his decision making. Speaking last night, after their 7-0 win over Disgustingly Sweet Energy Drink Leipzig, he said:
“I have three idols in my life. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Julia Roberts. These are my three idols.
“Julia Roberts years ago came to Manchester — not in the 90s when Sir Alex Ferguson was winning titles and titles and titles. She came in the period where we were better than United, in these four or five years, eh?
“And she went to visit Man United. She didn’t come to see us. That’s why even if I win the Champions League it will not compare for the fact that Julia Roberts came to Manchester and didn’t come to see us.
“So, even if I win the Champions League it will not compare to this disappointment I had.”
I mean, it’s quite funny really, and just a nonsensical distraction about his record in the Champions League at the world’s richest club in the time he’s been there. However, you could understand why he, and even some of the players, if given a straight choice, might go for Europe this season. I know it doesn’t work like that, you don’t pick and choose, but the likes of Kevin de Bruyne (31), Ilkay Gundogan (32 and at the end of his contract), Riyad Mahrez (32), and a couple of others might prefer to win a Champions League than another Premier League.
They will, of course, fight for both. We know that. We can’t assume anything else, but it’s not unknown for players and teams to end up prioritising when it gets to the business end of the season. It might be just a drop of a couple of percent from one game to the next, but at this level that can be the difference. And yes, this is some serious wishful thinking on my behalf, but like most of you I’m excited and terrified in equal measure by the last 11 Premier League games, so this is like a coping mechanism. Sue me.
Thank goodness that Haaland lad is making them worse, eh?
Back to us, and Mikel Arteta will meet the press today ahead of our Europa League Round of 16 game against Sporting.
I have three idols in my life. Seve Ballesteros, Diego Maradona, and Police Academy star Steve Guttenberg. These are my three idols.
One player I would rest tomorrow, despite the fact we have to win to make progress, is Bukayo Saka. By his own very, very high and consistent standards, I think he’s been a little below par in the last couple of games. He looked a bit off the pace against Fulham, and I think you could make a decent case that 90+ minutes away from home in the first leg against Sporting didn’t do him any favours in that sense.
He’s a player we all worry about because he plays so much, and I do think with a fuller squad now and more options for the manager to choose from, he could afford to start without him on Thursday, leaving him fresher for Sunday’s visit of Crystal Palace. But we did get an insight into the player himself, in an interview with ESPN, he talked about being kicked, being protected, and the idea of tiredness/fatigue.
“I’d say mentally, I’m just happy to be on the pitch. If I put it to you this way, would I rather be injured or on the pitch? I want to be on the pitch.
“If I ask myself when I was younger where I would want to be, and it was on the pitch playing for Arsenal every week competing at the highest level, I’d take it.
“So, I’m happy. I just want to continue to push to the end of the season and then in the summer I can lock myself in my room and sleep for the rest of the summer.”
I think that attitude is why, along with the fact he’s quite brilliant and hugely influential for this team, is why he is picked so often. We know from what Mikel Arteta has said that he is trying to build a culture where players have be ready to perform every three or four days. These are the foundations he’s attempting to put in place ahead of a return to the Champions League where the reality is you don’t rotate/rest anywhere near as much as you do in the Europa League – especially the group stages.
As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Saka start tomorrow, but I stand by my belief that taking him out the firing line even temporarily might be a smart move. Watch as he scores a hat-trick tomorrow and I look like a right chump.